The Indianapolis Colts arrived in Jacksonville wanting to accomplish three things: Stay healthy, play hard, and win. With the emphasis on staying healthy, the Colts began the game without Dwight Freeney or Robert Mathis in the starting lineup. But with fewer players in the rotation, Indy’s D-line began to wear down and the Jaguars began piling up the rushing yards with Maurice Jones-Drew.
That’s when the Colts’ competitive fire was lit, forcing both Freeney and Mathis to come to the rescue.
The decision to rest starters and play backups during the final games of the regular season has in no way signaled the white flag of surrender for the Colts. A step back offers a larger perspective of what they have achieved.
For years under Tony Dungy, the Colts have adopted a “Next Man Up” mentality, which has allowed backup players such as CB Jacob Lacey and S Melvin Bullitt to step in for starters Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders without a loss in production. One reason the Colts have set an NFL record with 12 or more wins in seven consecutive seasons is their ability to get young players valuable experience in more meaningful games, and not just during the preseason. By allowing DEs Keyunta Dawson and Raheem Brock to start for Freeney and Mathis on Thursday night, the Colts accomplished several goals. Young players gained valuable experience in a big-time national game, Freeney and Mathis received some much-needed rest while playing just enough to remain sharp, and, oh by the way, the Colts still won the game.
By winning an NFL-record 23 straight regular-season games, the Colts have demonstrated a successful formula for winning with unproven talent. Two of their biggest defensive plays in the fourth quarter were made by undrafted players. A sack by DT Eric Foster and an interception by Lacey were decisive plays in determining the outcome of the game.
This formula has racked up the most regular-season wins in a decade, but the Colts must prove to be more potent during the postseason.
Lately, it’s been the team with the hot hand that has won the Super Bowl, not necessarily the team that has been the healthiest. Recent early losses in the playoffs should also be a concern for the Colts. Remember, even their 2006 championship run involved a scenario which required them to play in the wild-card round as a No. 3 seed.
If going 16-0 is not on the Colts’ agenda, then playing their best players to remain game-ready should be priority No. 1. If for no other reason, the Colts should also be aware of the San Diego Chargers gaining ground in the rearview mirror.